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The Machine: Growing The Brand And Growing His People

October 5, 2017 // Helen Bond

Wendy's Hall of Fame franchisee Eddie Rodriguez is all about mega growth--one restaurant at a time.


Rodriguez, chairman of Pompano Beach, Fla.-based JAE Restaurant Group, is the 2017 MVP for Mega Growth Leadership for achieving excellence in growth and expansion. The QSR veteran is closing in on 200 restaurants and $300 million in annual revenue with the same approach to growth he's practiced since opening his first Wendy's in 1993.


"A lot of people fail to understand that when you run a restaurant a lot of the cost of your business is in a two- or three-mile radius," says Rodriguez. "The way you deal within that radius and serve those customers day in and day out determines how successful your restaurant is going to be. You want to own that trade area and be part of the community."


These days, Rodriguez's business picture is crystal clear, thanks to help from his custom-developed software he calls "The Machine." The idea for the project was born during restaurant visits, when Rodriguez and his partners saw the amount of daily administrative work required for the general managers to do their job.


"This is a tool that was developed to make our managers' lives easier," says Rodriguez. "It was put together to make us great operators and it has evolved to do just that." The proprietary program sweeps every key performance item a manager needs to see every day into a single, user-friendly email pushed to the inboxes of senior management and managers in the field.


Under development for more than two years and rolled out in the past 12 months, the program reduced employee turnover and saved the company time and money right off the bat: managers no longer needed to navigate numerous online sources to get the data they needed to run a restaurant effectively. The program has also been invaluable to "help us help managers get to the next level" and analyze operations in a new way, says Rodriguez.


"I can tell you by opening this email how many employees we have per thousand dollars in sales," he says. "Five years ago, I had to go to the payroll roster and count them, or go to the restaurant and ask them the number of employees."


The future possibilities for the program to boost the bottom line and care for the customer are "open to our imagination," says Rodriguez, who was inducted into the Wendy's Hall of Fame in 2016, the brand's highest honor for lifetime achievement.


While Rodriguez aims to be the biggest and best Wendy's franchisee he can be, he takes the most pride on a value that goes beyond the numbers. "What really drives me is being able to provide people in my company with the opportunity to grow within the company."


Name: Eddie Rodriguez
Title: Chairman, franchisee
Company: JAE Restaurant Group
No. of units: 179 Wendy's
Age: 61
Family: Wife Laurie, son, daughter, and four grandkids, 18 months to 5 years
Years in franchising: 43
Years in current position: 23 as a franchisee


Personal


First job:
Assistant manager trainee for Burger King.


Formative influences/events:
Attending public speaking classes, hearing presidents give speeches, and attending the Wharton School of Business.


Key accomplishments:
Sharing success with family and friends, building one of the biggest Wendy's franchisee systems, and becoming one of the top 10 biggest Wendy's franchisees.


Biggest current challenge:
Creating stability in the company so team members can achieve long-term success.


Next big goal:
Transition the business to the next generation.


First turning point in your career:
When I left Burger King in 1988. Since then, I tell everyone I couldn't pay for the education I received there and it put me where I am today.


Best business decision:
To expand the Wendy's brand in 2013, where I went from 13 to 179 units.


Hardest lesson learned:
That you can't dictate the needs of team members or customers.


Exercise/workout:
I try to do 45 minutes on the treadmill every day, and play racquetball.


Best advice you ever got:
From my father: Whatever you do, be the best at it. And from Dave Thomas: Take care of your business and your business will take care of you.


What's your passion in business?
People development, being able to give back and pave the road for team members to be successful and grow into management.


How do you balance life and work?
It's very hard. I try to stay positive and laugh as much as I can.


Guilty pleasure:
Eating a cannoli every night.


Favorite book:
How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.


Favorite movie:
"Men of Honor."


What do most people not know about you?
I give back a lot in a quiet way without acknowledgement. I sit on the board of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Broward County, an organization near and dear to my heart.


Pet peeve:
When people disrespect others. No matter your opinion, you should respect the feelings of everyone.


What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to provide more for my family than my parents could provide for me.


Last vacation:
Mediterranean cruise.


Person I'd most like to have lunch with:
My brother.


Management


Business philosophy:
To create a strong DNA and culture that resonates with internal, external, and outside partners' expectations.


Management method or style:
Everyone is born with a brain free of charge, let them use it.


Greatest challenge:
Adapting to changes in today's society, and understanding employees and customers and what their needs are.


How do others describe you?
Passionate, determined, sincere, and influential.


One thing I'm looking to do better:
Continue to become a better leader and a better listener.


How I give my team room to innovate and experiment:
I give them a long rope, only pulling it back before they drown, if necessary.


How close are you to operations?
Extremely close, whenever I judge progress, all I do is go to restaurants and talk to managers and employees.


What are the two most important things you rely on from your franchisor?
Strengthening of the brand, transparency, and improving the economic model.


What I need from vendors:
Strong partnership and dependability.


Have you changed your marketing strategy in response to the economy? How?
Yes, we've had to create value and update restaurants to cater to Millennials and new generations.


How is social media affecting your business?
We've had to transition traditional ways of marketing to stay up-to-date on social media, which is growing faster than TV and radio.


How do you hire and fire?
We have a hire-for-life mindset and fire only if they are jeopardizing the brand or the company.


How do you train and retain?
By creating a very strong culture that fosters growth; it goes hand-in-hand. We commit to training to develop team members' skills.


How do you deal with problem employees?
A lot of coaching and outside development, such as classes and, sometimes, counseling.


Fastest way into my doghouse:
To be insensitive to others.


Bottom Line


Annual revenue:
$280 million.


2017 goals:
To grow the company organically with 10 new restaurants per year.


Growth meter: How do you measure your growth?
One restaurant at a time.


Vision meter: Where do you want to be in 5 years? 10 years?
In 5 years, I want to be retired and on executive boards to help build better companies. In 10 years, I want to be traveling, watching the next generation grow the business, and making sure the DNA of the company stays true to its values.


How is the economy in your regions affecting you, your employees, and your customers?
Most of our market is a gateway to Latin America, so it's healthy and robust with lots of opportunities.


Are you experiencing economic growth in your market?
Absolutely. Miami and Fort Lauderdale have so much to offer in terms of growth from Latin America.


How do changes in the economy affect the way you do business?
We do more research on customers and employees in order to be effective and have more flexibility.


How do you forecast for your business?
We monitor the business daily, weekly, and monthly. Although we have a budget, we monitor it daily.


What are the best sources for capital expansion?
Internal cash flow; 30 to 40 percent of cash flow should be used for capital reinvestment.


Experience with private equity, local banks, national banks, other institutions? Why/why not?
Absolutely. In today's business environment, you need to have relationships with a number of financial institutions. You also must have a great management team and not just invest for today, but invest for tomorrow. It's not about what you want, it's about where the company is going to go.


What are you doing to take care of your employees?
We host a big holiday party every year in every market. We've increased vacation time (four weeks after 10 years) and we've tried to create an environment that enforces happiness by giving lots of recognition for hard work.


How are you handling rising employee costs (payroll, minimum wage, healthcare, etc.)?
We look at it as the cost of doing business. While it does have an impact on the bottom line, we don't short-term any of these costs and try to be on the leading edge.


How do you reward/recognize top-performing employees?
We give monthly recognition of the employee of the month at the office, parking spots, holiday parties, GM rallies twice a year where we bring all the GMs together, and give rewards based on performance, sales profiles, and people development.


What kind of exit strategy do you have in place?
I plan on turning the business over to the family by creating value and creating demand for the business. If you have a successful business, you will always have an exit strategy, and never have to worry about it.









Mega Growth Leadership Award


Why do you think you were recognized with this award?
Because of my leadership as a multi-unit operator and dedication to brand success.


How have you raised the bar in your own company?
We raise the bar every day. I preach that when we are feeling good about our results we should go back to basics and see if we have new challenges. Being a consistent "B-plus" or "A" operator takes persistence.


What innovations have you created and used to build your company?
"The Machine." We know all operational measures daily with the click of one email. Also, growth through community involvement and owning our trade area one restaurant at a time is a huge part of our success.


What core values do you think helped you win this award?
Strong DNA, tremendous culture, and superior management teams at all levels of the organization.


How important is community involvement to you and your company?
The mission of JAE Restaurant Group is to be "A Cut Above" to our stakeholders, while remaining true to our values. We demonstrate Dave Thomas's motto in everything that we do. Not only does JAE carry on with fresh, quality ingredients, we also operate quality restaurants with high-quality people. The founders have created a company that values the contributions of its employees. We promote a positive working environment where team members learn from one another from the cumulative years of Wendy's experience we have under one roof. We require every restaurant to support at least one local organization such as Little League, the Chamber of Commerce, or the Boys & Girls Club.


What leadership qualities are most important to you and your team?
The executive leadership team, with over 300 years of restaurant and multi-unit operations experience, shares the values of Wendy's founder, valuing people and the critical role they play in making a company successful. Our mission statement clearly articulates our "people first" philosophy and drives employee engagement. The company has created a family culture that celebrates employees' life events through celebrations, on its Facebook page, and through the company's newsletter.


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